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Friday, 19 July, 2002, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Man 'helped asylum boys flee camp'
Brothers Alamdar and Muntazer Bakhtiyari
The brothers have been sent back to a detention centre
An Irish backpacker has been charged with helping two boys to flee from Australia's controversial Woomera refugee detention centre.

The two boys - whose asylum claim was rejected at the UK consulate in Melbourne on Thursday - have now been flown back to Woomera, 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from the city.

I have been disappointed and I'm angry and my heart is broken

Ali Bakhtiyari

Jonathon Joseph O'Shea, a 22-year-old graphic artist, was charged in connection with their escape. He has been travelling in Australia on a one-year working visa.

The boys - 14-year-old Alamdar Bakhtiyari and his brother Muntazer, 12 - fled from Woomera three weeks ago.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has said they are not refugees. He also cast doubt on their claim to be from Afghanistan, saying instead they were Pakistanis.

'Family lied'

Their father Ali sought asylum at the German consulate in Melbourne on Friday but his request was also rejected.

He had travelled there from Sydney hoping to see his sons, but they were moved before he got there.

He has been living on a temporary protection visa in Sydney granted by the Australian Government.

Map of Australia showing Woomera, Adelaide and Melbourne
But Mr Ruddock says the family have lied about their background and the visa will be removed.

The boys' mother and her three other children remain in detention at Woomera.

Mr Bakhtiyari was visibly distraught on learning that his sons had already left Melbourne.

"I have been disappointed and I'm angry and my heart is broken," he was quoted as saying by the Melbourne Age newspaper.

Asylum 'jail'

On Thursday, the boys' lawyer, Eric Vadarlis, said they had been "very, very disturbed" at the Woomera centre and considered it a jail.

Alamdar had even tried to commit suicide in the camp, where he arrived in January 2001 with his mother and siblings, Mr Vadarlis said.

Woomera camp is in the remote outback

The father arrived in Australia separately and was allowed a temporary visa, but that did not permit him to sponsor his family, who claim to be Afghan refugees, to leave the Woomera camp.

Britain quickly rejected the boys' claims for asylum, with a Home Office spokeswoman saying there were no grounds to even consider them.

"Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, so there are no grounds for anyone to seek asylum in Britain from Australia," she said.

The case was a matter for the Australian authorities, she added.

Camp conditions

The boys are believed to have been among a group of more than 30 who broke out from South Australia's Woomera detention centre last month.

Australia is home to about 1,200 asylum seekers, mainly from the Middle East and Afghanistan, who are kept in remote camps while their claims are assessed.

There have been regular protests about the camps' conditions.

The Australian medical profession has condemned the detention of children like the two Bakhtiyari boys, with psychiatrists warning of the psychological damage that can result when children are locked up.

The BBC's Sangita Myska reports
"During a mass break-out in June a fence was torn down and they scrambled away"
Paul Campbell, Lawyer representing the boys
"It all seems to be proof of a cruel system"

Detention camps

Boat people



See also:

18 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
13 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
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